Do run the show;
Hauling government
In tow.

Italy’s Benito Mussolini was the world’s most famous fascist. His grip on power tightened between World Wars I and II. At the end of the latter, the maniacal Il Duce was appropriately executed, showing just how popular he and his armed goons turned out to be. His chief disciple, Adolf Hitler, expanded on the fascist concept and likewise rode it to Armageddon. In Spain, General Francisco Franco’s reign lasted four decades. No one has claimed ownership since he died in 1975.

As the saying goes, Franco’s still dead. But fascism isn’t. Its basic tenet is what Mussolini called “supercapitalism,” a system where governments and corporations work hand-in-glove. In Mussolini’s day, that meant government needed to take over companies. Today, the companies just take over the government.

At least the new way is less violent. No storm troopers invade factories. Instead of “blackshirts,” we’ve got stuffed suits. Lobbyists invade Capitol Hill and business contributions invade political campaigns. The government now bails out supposedly endangered megacorps and pays many of them absurd subsidies. The government also fosters trade pacts that make it easier for businesses to take advantage of cheap foreign labor and not pay steep duties when the goods are shipped home.

Old-time fascism called for war and violence to control useful foreign resources and intimidate dissidents at home. Our country has taken up war, partly for that very same purpose. While domestic government violence surely falls far short of historic fascist standards, technology has made such violence less necessary. Remote surveillance pretty well controls dissent. When these tools don’t suffice, police raids and computer confiscations do the job.

Besides physically controlling the populace, fascism was prone to letting folks stew in their own economic juice. Unions were destroyed. Workers, despite their increasing poverty, were expected to be loyal to the unified national expansion campaign, as was everybody else. These days, you can hear similar echoes in congressional budget debates. The new Republican leaders want to keep the military budget intact and to cure the deficit by cutting public infrastructure, human services, and anti-poverty measures. Tea partiers applaud this approach.

Many people accept this inhumane budgetary sacrifice because of their nationalist zeal. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, our country has constantly seemed under siege. Loyal citizens will always rally ’round the flag in such circumstances. Unity and sacrifice have become key national virtues–as long as someone else is doing the sacrificing. Self-sacrifice, of course, is a different matter. No more taxes, please.

Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about true fascism in this country. The real McCoy demands a single-party system. That’s unlikely here given our entrenched partisan heritage. Still, it’s disturbing to hear our two great parties speak so often with a single voice on wars, drugs, deficits, homeland security, foreign bases, taxes, and other issues when disagreement might be healthier.

Most Americans don’t even know what fascism was about. We rarely hear the term now. Nonetheless, it’s chilling to see some of its tenets quietly creep into contemporary public policy.

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William A. Collins

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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